60 Seconds with... Philip Higham


Have you worked with Pekka before? What are you most looking forward to regarding that collaboration?

I have not yet played with Pekka but am looking very much forward to him coming to SCO in March. I have heard him in chamber music on a few memorable occasions, and was captivated by his unique musical dialect, its vibrancy and communicative power. I remember noting that, in the Bartok Contrasts, for example, there seemed not be one single sound that belonged “to the violin” as I knew it – everything he did sounded new, and his imagination for sound and colour, especially, simply transcended all convention. One small part of the interesting programme we are playing, which I’m naturally excited about, happens to be a movement from the Ravel Duo for violin and cello, a piece that demands utmost sensitivity to colour and texture from both players; when it works well it can feel like you're sculpting something out of smoke, or some impossibly delicate material. I’m looking forward to our explorations with this, and of course the other Ravel pieces for orchestra.

Pekka is passionate about breaking down the barriers between performers and listeners and shaking up the format of a traditional classical concert – how do you think that mentality suits the SCO?

It seems to me that he rather breaks down barriers within music itself – or, to put it another way, he has a way of opening musical doors that are often not so immediately visible to others. What he can produce, in terms of tonal range, atmosphere, gesture, a sense of theatre, is so out of the ordinary for many that people are compelled to listen in a new way. Not to mention his immense honesty on the concert platform; perhaps a little like Yo Yo Ma, his sense of warmth and openness speaks to everyone in the hall before even a note has been played. SCO welcomes any artist who genuinely shares their music-making, and in that respect I can’t think of a more generous figure than Pekka.

Last Season you featured as a soloist playing CPE Bach, now you’ll be featured once again for Crumb’s God-Music from Black Angels - how have you approach this piece compared to the Bach?

It could hardly be a more different task! That said, both composers were somewhat pioneers in terms of new sounds/special effects... and maybe, just maybe, Carl Phillip Emmanuel Bach would have been familiar with the same slightly eerie sound of the glass harmonica, invented in 1761 (In George Crumb’s piece the solo cello is accompanied by 20 bowed wine glasses, each carefully tuned.) But they’ve not much more in common than that! I enjoy being placed in other, less conventional sound worlds, so long as that amounts to something musically worthy. Black Angels is a marvellously effective work, written for electric string quartet, and is seen very much as response to and protest against the Vietnam war. The movement we are playing - “God Music” - comes from the third and final part of the piece (“Return”) and the cello – unsurprisingly – seems to represent divine presence, order and redemption (whereas the solo violin is chosen, naturally, for the “Devil Music” in the quartet’s first part.)

What do you think audiences can expect from the concert? 

Unusually the first half of this programme will run without break, or without conventional applause between pieces. And as we weave in and out of Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin (for orchestra) there seem to be areas for reflection and commentary, setting the pieces in greater emotional relief – at least, that’s how I imagine it could be, at the time of writing. It’s also not so often that an audience’s ears are having to constantly “re-calibrate” between orchestra and solo/duo pieces, so in that way the evening will feel more multi-dimensional.


Pekka will be directing Ravel and Haydn on 20 & 21 March. Tickets can be purchased from the Queen's Hall and Glasgow City Halls Box Offices, online, or over the phone (0131 668 2019).